DANA MERRYDAY/CHRONICLE PHOTO

Ore Cart competitors race down Main Street in Historic Downtown Cottage Grove.

Tis past weekend the Bohemia Mining Days celebration was held in Cottage Grove. It would have been the 62nd BMD had Covid not forced the festival to take a year off. This is not in-depth coverage of the comeback year for BMD. 

This reporter was deeply embedded in helping organize the inaugural Ore Cart Races held on Main Street, helping with the Kids Zone, and generally running around like crazy. I missed the Grand Miner’s Parade that kicked things off on Saturday morning, but did hear people talking about how much fun it was to have the parade back. I also didn’t have the luxury of stalling around Saturday to get a “feel” of the room as BMD returned to its roots and was held downtown for the first time since its founding years ago.

For the uninitiated, here is a quick primer on some of the colorful past of BMD. In 1955 there was a special Centennial Celebration organized to commemorate the founding of our fair city. It was a 10-day string of events that encompassed the 4th of July. Citizens were encouraged to wear western wear, long dresses and there was a beard and mustache contest for the men. There was a packed schedule that included a rodeo, pet parade, flower show, bicycle races down Main Street, archery contest, old-timers picnic and an encampment of 75 Boy Scouts in the City Park among many others. This 100-year party was a big success and apparently broke even. Even though no big celebration was held the following year, the seeds for Bohemia Mining Days had been planted and soon bore fruit. In 1959 there was another 100-year anniversary, the founding of Oregon, and Cottage Grove again made a big effort to celebrate local and gold mining history. This celebration was also well received and each following July different efforts were made to promote Cottage Grove and its historical past. A group calling itself The Prospectors and Gold Diggers coalesced and called for a community meeting that began planning for the first official Bohemia Mining Days July 18-20, 1963. A festival was held downtown and a circus, ice cream social, buckaroo breakfast, parades, bus trips to the mines and an original musical “Bohemia” were notable features of that “first” BMD. It only grew from there. By 1968 the festival recorded over 88,000 visitors. BMD moved around over the years, being held at the old Chambers Mill site, in a vacant field where Walmart is now built, and most lately in Coiner Park. Features and events have come and gone too over the years. Breakfast on the Mountain has been a longtime tradition and the carnival featuring rides and that special “fair food” has been very popular since it was added. 

Flash forward to 2020, the BMD Executive Board had to make the painful decision to not hold the festival that year due to Covid conditions, joining many other longtime festivals which had to also bite the bullet and call off their events as well. Taking a year off for a festival has severe consequences. Especially for an event like BMD which generates the revenue for the following year at the current year’s festival. There was no recourse to canceling last year, but the question was how to bring it back from the mothball state without the cash that would have been seed money for 2021. Additionally a festival of BMD’s magnitude requires a year’s worth of planning, recruitment, and organizing. With the uncertainty of what would be possible in the Covid shutdown, the BMD board was faced with a double whammy. How do you make plans without a crystal ball which would tell you what’s possible nine months in the future and how to pull off a festival with virtually no money on hand?

Into this precarious breech stepped two BMD stalwarts, Don Williams and Cindy Weeldreyer. Both have long histories with the organization and both were determined to see BMD rise phoenix-like from the ashes of Covid. They began plotting to raise money, figure out what would be likely to pull off regardless of restrictions, and look for a way to help local businesses in the historic downtown. The plan began to emerge of returning to downtown as the most doable version of BMD for the least amount of money. 

Weeldreyer wanted to provide something new this year, and after observing the very successful “Outhouse Races,” an annual event held in Lincoln City, Nev., came up with the idea of introducing “Ore Cart Races” to Cottage Grove, a nod to our mining past. Many committee meetings and heavy support from the local Bohemia Gold Mining Museum went into creating a new tradition from the ground up.

One example of how very difficult it was for the BMD Board and organizers, consider the quest to get event insurance coverage. That turned out to be a month-long process where the festival was denied coverage by a long series of insurers. There was no way forward without this piece. It was only a month ago that an insurance company was found that would provide liability coverage (do you know that board members of an organization can be personally held liable if there is no insurance in place?) The City also would not allow the event to go forward without insurance. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Being forced to take a year off also robbed the festival of its momentum and many of its regular volunteers went missing in the process. The carnival company canceled because, like many businesses, they could not find the workers they needed to put on the show. That was completely outside of BMD control. So this year was a stopgap year. Was it perfect? No. Was it important to do something? Yes. Next year the goal is to be back at Coiner Park and to have the carnival and many of the other familiar features of the BMD’s of years past. I would also say if you weren’t satisfied with what you experienced, step up, volunteer, get on the BMD board, contribute money or solicit donors and sponsors to help support this 62-year tradition.

This year’s new, inaugural BMD event, the Ore Cart Races, was an unequivocal success. All the people lining Main Street to watch the races and seemed to enjoy the teams fighting for the glory. Planning the races was a journey into uncertainty as dark as any mine shaft. As of Saturday there was only one, confirmed by photograph, extant Ore Cart. The committee, flying by the seats of their heavy mining pants, were having to figure things out on the fly and were pleasantly surprised when eight real Ore Carts actually showed up on Saturday afternoon to go for the gold.

The first time trials were held Saturday and with a double-elimination bracket there were a numberwere number of paths to victory. The crowds along the track yelled encouragement for their favorite teams and there were a few spills and thrills. On Sunday afternoon following the Bloomers Parade the final heats were run. Being it was the first time for this event there were some kinks that came up. A false start, complete with video review by the judges and consultation with the teams involved, was successfully resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. The Ore Cart teams were very competitive and showed much heart. As the matchups went along three teams rose to the top. Undefeated D&D Mining (Auto) (wondering if their expert mechanics had a hand in the cart design?) captured first place, Covered Bridge Brewing Group’s Cart fought hard to corral 2nd place, and E Clampus Vitus, a historical drinking society, who have aided in preserving local history, most recently helping clean McFarland Cemetery, battled it out to claim third place. If you were unable to see the races you may be interested to know heats were won or lost not just on pure straightaway speed but on the skill and luck of the “Tommy Knocker.” This member of the three person team rode in the Ore Cart and hopped out at the halfway point, loaded on three 20-pound sandbags and had to get back in before the team could race back to the finish line. This year’s winners will be inscribed on the permanent plaques displayed at the Bohemia Gold Mining Museum in the Red Square Dance Barn.

It seems, if you believe social media, that no good deed goes unpunished in the Grove. Grousers were heard belly-aching, “I like it better in the Park” or “It was more like a farmers market than BMD” (what is not to like about a farmers market?). But we’ll forget about these naysayers for the moment and show what a true demonstration of community spirit looks like. At the awards ceremony all three winning Ore Cart teams donated their cash prizes back to BMD to support next year’s celebration. They have set the example for belief in keeping BMD alive and going forward. Thank you to all the racers, volunteers, visitors, and members of the community who came together to celebrate a unique BMD this year! Together we can get it back where you want it and besides I heard that the elephant ears, at least, were beyond reproach!

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